Shetland Showcase: Vivian Ross-Smith

My lovely friend, Vivian Ross-Smith, is the next person to feature in the Shetland Showcase.
A visual artist from Shetland, Vivian recently graduated from Grays School of Art in Aberdeen. She uses traditional methods and skills within her work and creates these truly evocative and mesmerising artworks which are related to remote places and Island life. She kindly agreed to answer some questions about her work and influences, being a young creative person from Shetland and what qualities contribute to Shetland products:

Vivian 1

Describe the main focus of your work….

The predominant focus in my work is our natural world; especially relating to extreme and remote locations.  Within my work traditional methods of craftsmanship and preservation techniques have become central to my practice.  I use these skills and processes as a means of exploring relationships between material and surface; and between man made and natural.  It is important for me to tie together both painting and traditional craft methods in the work. This has meant that the collection and use of natural materials, from source, along with an honest handmade means of producing the work has become extremely important in the production of the end result. My work becomes a visual patchwork of personal experience importing the extreme nature of remote living into the studio and gallery context.  Exploring how ancestrally collected skills that would have aided the struggles of everyday life can now be observed from a different perspective.

You’re from Shetland, but you studied away while at University, do you think this has influenced your work in a certain way? 

Yes definitely.  When I was about to leave for art school I was really unsure what I was going to make work about, I was scared that my inspirations would fade away and I would feel lost at what form my art would take.  But I found that when I settled into art school life in a city, I had to make work about Shetland.  I can far more clearly interpret Shetland as a place and an inspiration when I am not actually there.  I enjoy scavenging materials, gathering research and information then leaving to a completely different environment to dissect that information.  If I permanently lived in Shetland I would be constantly distracted with so many inspirations but when you don’t have them at your doorstep you decide what is important and what you are really interested in to then take forward to make work.  I make work about Shetland to tell a story about a place, its history, and its people.  Within Shetland everyone already knows that story so I like to tell it further afield.

Vivian 6

Would you say you’re a Shetlander? Scottish? British?

That’s a very tough one for me personally!  I was born in Edinburgh and my whole family is Scottish but we moved to Fair Isle, Shetland when I was 3.  So technically I would class myself as a Shetlander.  I love to travel though and its something I find great enjoyment in.  I like to think that someone can say they are from many places rather than restricting yourself to just one place.  Shetland is my home and always will be; I feel a great sense of content only when I am in Shetland.  Living on remote islands has formed a lot of my artistic practice and me as a person; so more than anything I would say I am an islander.

Vivian 7                                                                                                                            ‘Shoormal’

As part of your Degree at Grays, you studied away in Finland for a semester. Finland is sometimes considered as one of the regions which make up Scandinavia. Do you think Shetland has Scandinavian influences in it’s Identity?

Absolutely.  I think Shetland should be really proud of its Norse roots and I feel that there should be a lot more connections between Scandinavia and Shetland than there already is.  I feel very drawn to Scandinavia.  I loved living in Finland, it taught me so much and was the most amazing experience.  The city of Turku, on the south west coast of Finland where I lived and studied, sits on the same latitude as Shetland does. It was really interesting to live in a place, which shares a geographical link to my home, and notice all of the similarities and differences between the two places, aesthetically, in the community, way of life and people’s mentality. I have traveled in Norway, Sweden and Denmark and hope to live more permanently in Scandinavia one day.  The knitwear is a strong connection between Scandinavia and Shetland but I would love for all forms of artists and designers from the northern countries to work together more.

Vivian 8‘Fishing Hands O’ Fair Isle’

How important to you being from Shetland is it to use Shetland as an influence in your work? 

It is very important to me.  I scavenge for a lot of my materials around Shetland and try to use naturally sourced materials as much as possible. “It is important for me that my work stays true to the genuine skills and methods used in the place I am making work about.  For instance when I was living in Finland I taught myself to make gillnets which were the traditional nets used for ice fishing and I use that process within my work.  All the knitting I make for my work is hand knitted myself; I would feel like a cheat if I used a machine!  To do everything by hand is absolutely essential to me; it allows me to devote a large portion of my time to my art allowing for a better understanding of traditional methods and way of life.  It is so interesting to me that nearly every Shetland artist I know makes work about Shetland.  We come from such an amazing place, rich in heritage and history it seems natural to make work about the place we inhabit. 

Do you think Shetland products have a particular style?  What are the qualities that make a Shetland product typically Shetland?

Ultimately I feel Shetland products are for the most part full of skill.  The use of natural material is predominant and the way they are produced really shows great craftsmanship by the artists and maker.  Traditionally Shetland products were made to serve a purpose, for example the Fair Isle pattern is aesthetically very beautiful but also functional due to the way it is knitted.  The way the pattern is formed requires a lot of excess wool to be pulled across the back of the knitted pattern, which means it is incredibly warm.  I think it is important to remember these traditional useful qualities, to Shetland knitwear especially.   I really appreciate that modern Shetland designers still show their appreciation for traditional design.  For example Burra Bears maker Wendy Inkster uses Shetland knitwear as a material to form her beautifully hand crafted bears.  That reuse of something traditional is a lovely way of passing on a product to a new generation and giving it a new life, making it something to be cherished.
Vivian 10‘Suomi’ & ‘Thule’

Vivian was recently commissioned to create a piece for Knight Property Group and it now hangs in their new offices in Aberdeen.
You can follow Vivian and her creative adventures here on her blog and on twitter @vrosssmith.

Thanks Vivian,x

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